Speaking in Tongues (Languages)!

Acts 2:3-4; 8; 11 (HCSB) And tongues [or languages], like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech (brackets added)….How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language…We hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages.

Key Points:

  1. The word tongues (glossa) in verse 3 is the same word in the greek as languages in vs. 4.  Therefore, you could translate the word the same vice versa.   The greek word is sometimes used to mean a literal tongue and is also used to mean languages we speak.  The point is that it is a language.
  2. The word “fire” in vs. 3 is the greek word πυρός .  It is the same word used in Revelation 19:12 to describe the eyes of the triumphant Jesus returning to earth to destroy the wicked with the Word of God.  Moreover, it is the same word used in Matthew 3:13 when John the Baptist says of Jesus, that “He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  This fire is the power of God.
  3. The word divided in vs. 3 is the picture of the different languages that the apostles would speak being given to them.  In other words, as the languages “rested on each of them”, this meant that one apostle was able to speak the Parthian language, another apostle was able to speak the Elamite language, and still another was able to speak an Asian language, and so on and so forth as is referenced in Acts 2:8-9.
  4. This was a gift of languages.  There was no part of the human being in it except the literal tongue that was used to speak it.  In vs. 4 it says that “the Spirit gave them ability for speech” or to speak the language that rested on them.  First was given the language that they would speak, then the Holy Spirit gave them words.  The gift of languages that comes from this event is totally derivative of the Holy Spirit and cannot be authentically duplicated by human effort.  This applies to every gift of the Holy Spirit–either you have it or you do not.  Either God gives it to you or He does not.  You cannot achieve it by your own will.
  5. (Vs. 8) The bystanders, who we find out are unbelievers who turn to God to be saved, do not understand how they are hearing their languages because they see these apostles all speaking different languages and know that they are not from their region.  Moreover, they are noticing that all of the apostles are doing this together towards the crowd (vs. 6) which reinforces that something very strange is happening.
  6. (Vs. 11)  The apostles were not having a conversation with the individuals of different nations, they were “speaking the magnificent acts of God” out loud.  Not to them in particular, but they were just speaking the words and the bystanders were there to hear them–it reminds me of a street preacher just declaring the Word of the Lord to whomever will hear it.
  7. (Vs. 14)  When Peter started talking to people specifically it was because the people of Judah and Jerusalem…THE JEWS…that spoke their same language, could not understand them and assumed they were speaking gibberish; they declared that the apostles were drunk.  This is when Peter explains to them what is happening and cites several passages from the Old Testament regarding signs and wonders such as these, as well as the authenticity of Jesus’s claims of being the Messiah.  BOTH the unbelieving Jews and the unbelieving gentiles were targeted in this outpouring of miraculous intelligible speech.

Cross Reference Points

  1. 1 Corinthians 14
    1. Speaking in tongues (languages) itself is not directed at people.  It is directed at God because it is the act of praising God as we see in Acts 2:11.  Paul confirms this in 1 Cor. 14:2.  In Acts 2 we see the foreigners hearing the apostles speak the acts of God in their own language spontaneously as the Spirit comes upon them, not interacting with them individually. This then shows that when a person speaks in tongues they are not talking to a person, but from the outward appearance, they are talking to themselves. Point of fact, they are talking back to God as He (the Holy Spirit) gives them “ability for speech” (Acts 2:4).  Those around them benefit from the utterance–at least they will if they are speaking by the Holy Spirit!
    2. Paul indicates that it is also possible for a person to interpret the foreign language that they are miraculously speaking, IF they are given that ability from God.  It follows that they may not be given that ability and if that be the case, they should not speak in their foreign language in front of others who do not know the language because it would useless to anyone (except the speaker who feels edified because he/she is using their gift).  Additionally, if they speak in this foreign language that no one can interpret, Paul states that people will think they are crazy, much like the Jews did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Because the Jews were then convicted of their misspoken judgment when Peter stands up and declares the Word of the Lord, it stands to reason that he was interpreting the spoken message in tongues.  This also shows that the individual has control over their gift, knows what they are saying and doing, and can choose not to use it (or use it).
      1. If I have the gift of exhortation, it flows from me.  I am pressed to use it.  It is hard for me not to encourage, correct, and inspire others…but not impossible.  I can choose not to speak.  When I do speak in this gift of exhortation, there is something that comes from within me that does not originate from me.  But I am able to manage it; tame the tongue so to speak (James 3).  There may be a time when I cannot explain the gift that I have, but the gift is there nonetheless, if the Spirit has chosen to give it to me.  Other church leaders are there to confirm and send me out to use it in God’s service.
    3. If you can speak in a foreign language by the power of the Holy Spirit, you should ask God for the interpretation of the words you’ve been given so that you can share that information with those around you who do not know the language.  Then you will be prophesying, exhorting, or teaching those around you.  If you are among unbelievers who speak the foreign language you are miraculously able to speak, then you are free to exclaim the acts of God so that they can hear them in their  own language and see the miracle taking place.  The point is that if someone in the general area does not understand what you are saying, the only person you are edifying is yourself and that is not the purpose of Christians, or the gift of languages.


  1. Tongues (languages) are a sign to people who do not believe in Jesus that the Holy Spirit, and consequently, Jesus, are real and that your testimony is valid (1 Cor. 14:22).  The actual miracle that takes place when a person speaks in a foreign language they have not learned is the sign to unbelievers.  The content is able to edify believers and unbelievers alike, that is, if there is someone able to interpret the words.
  2. If you speak a foreign language miraculously and you are not out in the marketplace declaring the acts of God in that foreign language, where others understand it, but instead you are in the church–you shouldn’t even speak in the foreign language (unless someone knows the language and can interpret it)…instead you should speak the interpretation of that language which is the Word from God so that your brothers and sisters can understand.  If you do not have the interpretation from God, you should not speak the message in a foreign language, unless there is another individual in the room who says that they can speak that foreign language and interpret it.
  3. Speaking in a tongue (foreign language) is completely from the Holy Spirit and does not originate from a single human thought or impulse.  Like any other true gift given from Him.


The gifts are given by the Holy Spirit.  He gives them as He chooses.  If you have the gift of the Holy Spirit that He has determined to give you, it cannot be invalidated.  It is real.  But just because there are certain gifts, does not mean that He has to give them.  He chooses.  God determines where and when His gifts are used.  We cannot speak in tongues (foreign languages) just because we want to.  He must miraculously grant us the ability to speak in such a way and we will know that it is from Him.  The gift of tongues (foreign languages) is a gift that can be validated, like every other gift.  Either the hearer will know the language and declare this or the message that is interpreted by the individual who received the interpreted message will edify the listener.  That is it.  So I say, if the Spirit has granted the gift, let it be done in the manner outlined above and be validated in this way.  If the Spirit has not granted the gift of tongues which is demonstrated by a lack of validation, then let the counterfeit gift remain unspoken.

Leave a Reply